Concrete walls and surveillance drones are among the amplified security measures set to be introduced in camps across Greek mainland and islands largely funded by the EU. Front-LEX, Progress Lawyers Network, and the Greek Helsinki Monitor have submitted a legal action against the European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex at the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU). At a meeting in Athens on 21 May Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis and head of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri exchanged compliments over cooperation resulting in an 80 percent reduction of arrivals to Greece.

A ten feet tall concrete wall is under construction around the Ritsona refugee camp near Athens and a call for tenders published by the Greek government reveals plans for extensive measures to amplify security in refugee camps across Greece. According to Al Jazeera measures including: “Drones patrolling from the sky, magnetic gates with integrated thermographic cameras, X-ray machines and security cameras at the entry and exit points,” will be implemented in 39 camps across the mainland and the Greek islands. 75 percent of the costs will be covered by the European Internal Security Fund and the walls, alone at a price of 28.4 million Euro, will be largely funded by the European Commission. MEP from the Greens/EFA Group, Tineke Strik stated: “Putting walls around camps only leads to less integration into the local community, less scrutiny by NGOs and journalists and worse conditions in the camps. It’s actually very simple: being a refugee shouldn’t lead to incarceration.” In a letter addressed to Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas and Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, Strik notes the deteriorating health conditions in the Vathy camp on Samos that: “will only get worse once the asylum seekers are transferred to the new EU-funded ‘Multi Purpose Center’ on the island” that is: “built on a completely remote location, has the characteristics of a prison”. The permission for the location of a new ‘closed controlled structure’ on Lesvos to replace the notorious Moria 2.0 was published on 18 May by Greek authorities. The substantial financial and political investments in securitisation and establishment of closed facilities does little to address the generally deteriorating conditions and exposure of refugees and asylum seekers in Greece where dysfunctions in the asylum and reception system continue to be evident. The Katsikas facility on the mainland was recently placed under quarantine after 160 residents tested positive for COVID-19 and the VIAL camp on the island of Chios has seen a number of neglected cases of tuberculosis. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) 4,184 residents of camps across Greece remained unregistered as of April 2021. Further, the transfer of responsibility for the ESTIA program providing private accommodation for asylum seekers from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) to the Migration Ministry continues to cause its unravelling as a recent example from the island of Tilos illustrates.

A legal action on behalf of an unaccompanied child and a woman who according to front-Lex one of the organisations representing them, were: “violently rounded up, assaulted, robbed, abducted, detained, forcibly transferred back to sea, collectively expelled, and ultimately abandoned on rafts with no means of navigation, food or water” has been filed against Frontex at CJEU. According to the organisation: “Despite undisputed and overwhelming evidence for serious and persisting violations of fundamental rights, FRONTEX and its Executive Director, Fabrice Leggeri, have failed to terminate the Agency’s activities in the Aegean Sea, in flagrant infringement of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU and Frontex Regulation”. Meanwhile, evidence of the agency’s complicity and failure to follow up on rights violations in the Aegean continue to mount and internal documents seen by Spiegel reveal that the agency’s own human rights watchdog found “solid evidence” of pushbacks as highlighted in the outlet’s reporting. At a meeting on 21 May Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis praised an 80 percent reduction of arrivals acknowledging the active support of Frontex and head of the agency, Fabrice Leggeri, returned the compliments stating: “This meeting is extremely rewarding for the Agency” and “We are fully committed to supporting Greece” which is “a showcase of the European standing corps.” On the day of the meeting the NGO hotline Alarm Phone reported of yet another pushback of ten people off Rhodos who were forced back into Turkish waters and left adrift at sea by the Greek coast guard. Further, a blogpost published by Border Criminologies entitled ‘Spaces of Detention at the Greek-Turkish Land Border’ describes how: “the linkages between detention and pushbacks at the Greek – Turkish border illustrate how the governance of borders relies on assemblages of both formal and informal practices and infrastructures. The proliferation of these structures, often concealed by their benign outward appearance as farm buildings, fits in with the dispersed geography of pushbacks – and the way detention is increasingly serving as a temporal stage within the execution of violent removals”.

In her letter to Schinas and Johansson, Tineke Strik urges the Commissioners not to leave thousands of Syrians nationals whose asylum claims have been deemed inadmissible by Greek authorities based on Turkey as a safe third country, in a legal limbo. However, parliamentary questions posed to the Commission on 1 February by MEP Erik Marquardt, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance are yet to be answered. Questioning compatibility of Greek practises with EU and human rights law, Marquardt writes: “Turkey has not accepted any readmissions since March 2020, Greek authorities have been issuing voluntary departure decisions for Syrian nationals with a final decision rejecting their application as inadmissible (Turkey is considered a ‘safe third country’ for them). These people are requested to depart from Greece within 10, 15 or 30 days, although their applications have not been assessed on their merits. Nevertheless, they are not allowed to enter Turkey, and they cannot return to Syria in view of the ongoing conflict. This has created a situation of refugees ‘in orbit’. At the same time, they no longer have access to material reception conditions”.

On 26 May Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) released a timeline on the NGO registry and crackdown on civil society organisations supporting refugees and migrants in Greece. RSA reiterates how: “Risks of repression of civil society organisations supporting refugees and migrants in Greece have been heavily exacerbated by successive legislative reforms in 2020, introducing disproportionate and ambiguous requirements for registration on two Registries managed by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum”.

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Photo: ECRE

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.